Nothing better embodies the world of haute cuisine than the truffle. These highly prized, subterranean tubers don’t look particularly tasty, but have garnered a reputation for being “the diamond of the kitchen.” They are most associated with the cuisine of France and Northern Italy, but the ingredient has found its way into fine restaurants around the world, paired with everything from foie gras to fries.
You’re most likely going to see either black or white truffles on the menu. Black truffles are commonly harvested in late autumn and winter from oak and hazelnut trees in France from their namesake region Perigord, though black truffles have also been found in Spain and Italy. This variety is more subtle than the white truffle, with an earthy flavor that holds up to cooking, so you’ll probably eat these stuffed into a roast or mixed into risotto.
White truffles are highly prized for their strong aroma. They are famously found around the cities of Asti and Alba in Italy, and harvested in fall off the roots of oak, hazel, poplar and beech trees. These prized tubers can be incredibly pungent, to the point of being unpleasant for those not used to the ingredient. For that reason, white truffles are often served sparingly, uncooked and shaved on top of dishes like Parmesan cheese, except a lot stronger. In the last few decades, there’s been a surge in add-ons like truffled cheese and French fries cooked in truffle oil (though the authenticity of truffle oil can be questionable).
Burgundy truffles are another prized variety, though not quite as sought after as their Perigord sibling. Found all across Europe, burgundy truffles have a hazelnut-like aroma often substituted for black truffles. Summer truffles on the other hand are similar to the Burgundy variety, though less intense and aromatic as they are harvest earlier in the year.
Now that you have the basics, you can make your next fine dining order in confidence and enter the world of truffle cuisine.
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